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How Banning Screen Time Changed My Parenting Style

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Caucasian boy playing with blocks
Caucasian boy playing with blocks

I sit in my bedroom, thumb in constant motion as I scroll through an endless stream of parenting memes, political rants and friends’ status updates. I’ve seen it all before, but just need another minute or two...or five…to ignore the many voices floating up the stairs and down the hallway to the place where I hide from my children.

I never wanted to be one of those mothers who eagerly awaited the first day of school, but we are firmly entrenched in summer vacation and the kids’ constant fighting is wearing my patience thin. Part of me knows it’s just typical sibling behavior -- something I remember with nostalgic fondness from my own childhood, growing up with three sisters, but another part carries a problematic doubt.

Maybe what I use for an “escape” is making the situation worse. Maybe most of these issues we’ve encountered would disappear if I were more present, less distracted. Maybe my constant talk of limiting my children’s screen time while leaving mine unlimited is more hypocritical than I’ve been willing to admit. Maybe it isn’t my kids who have a screen addiction -- maybe it’s me.

On a whim, I consult my husband and make a decision. Our family will go screen-free for two days. No tablets, television, computers or smartphones. We’ll live like people did pre the technology frenzy...and learn to enjoy one another’s company.

We spend our screen-free days hanging out with some family who are visiting for the week. The kids have a pack of cousins to play with and the adults have time to catch up with each other. Although my sisters occasionally check their phones, I’m surprised to find I have no desire to do the same. I leave mine at home to avoid temptation and feel remarkably free without its constant presence in my back pocket. Not once do I wonder what cat video I’m missing or which celebrity has posted a picture that has everyone talking.

The kids don’t seem to mind, either. The only time they mention screens is first thing in the morning, which is the one time I miss them, too. We like to wake up slowly -- the kids with a TV show and me with the computer, no one having to talk until we’ve had our juice or coffee.

My husband, who doesn’t share my love of social media but does enjoy unwinding with remote in hand, good-naturedly plays along with my experiment. He reflexively turns on the television the first night, but quickly turns it off when he remembers. As our second night draws to a close we no longer need the reminder.

When the third day dawns, I picture my kids racing down the stairs in the morning, wrestling each other to be the first to get the iPad while I hungrily scroll through Facebook checking millions of missed notifications.

Instead, two kids sleep in while one curls up on the couch for a few minutes before working on a Lego creation he began the day before. My husband checks his email then heads to work. I glance through my notifications to confirm what I was already beginning to suspect: I didn’t miss much.

As the day goes on, the kids and I get back into our normal routines. They watch some TV and play a few games on the iPad. I get a little work done on the computer and see what my online friends are up to. But we also run errands without any meltdowns, and in the moments when the kids are acting up or fighting, I discover something wonderful -- I have more patience with them than I’ve had all summer. I’m even back to wishing the first day of school wasn’t creeping up on us so fast.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I don’t think so. Which makes me wonder: Am I ready to live screen-free full-time?

Nah. Not only does my work require an online presence, but our screen-free days made me notice all of the practical uses screens provide. Much like when the electricity goes out, we don’t realize all the little, yet essential, things we use them for until they’re not there anymore.

Even so, I am considering implementing weekly screen-free days for the health of our family. Maybe we won’t go cold turkey next time; maybe it won’t even be a family-wide ban. After all, I’m pretty sure I was the one who gained the most from my little experiment, so it stands to reason that I should be the one taking a break from screens most often.

Giving up a day of social media in exchange for being a happier, more patient mom seems like a great trade; and I’m pretty sure no one has ever suffered from “lack of Facebook.” If I end up being the first, I have a feeling you’ll read about it while scrolling through your news feed. Unless, of course, you’ve decided to follow my lead.

This material is for general informational purposes only. Aetna is not the author of this content.

Aetna believes that mindfulness — the act of being present — starts with simply experiencing what is here and now. So step back, #takeamoment, and appreciate the little things. You’ll be surprised at what you notice. Share your experience using the hashtag #takeamoment on social media.